John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Viewed under an electron microscope, smog can look like snowflakes.
There aren't many good things to say about air pollution, given the way it tends to kill tons of people. But if one were forced to find a silver lining in smog, it's that it can look strangely alluring under high-powered microscopes, like evil, malformed snowflakes.
China is a place with vast holdings of smog. So it's fitting these alien-looking images of harmful particles were recently featured by China Central Television. Made by photographer Zhang Chao, they show different types of PM 2.5 or "fine" particulate air pollution. This is the stuff resulting from auto and power-plant combustion that sticks deep in the lungs. Health studies have linked it with respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality, according to the EPA.
The one above "is a fairy," suggests a CCTV commenter.
Other tiny airborne travelers are equally fascinating viewed under an electron microscope. These aerosols display a range of shapes from regimented crystals to crumpled raisins. Volcanic ash is at top left, sea salt is bottom left, and soot is bottom right. The spiky balls at top right are pollen, a kind of bioaerosol.
And here's more stuff you probably want to observe from behind closed windows: Saharan Desert dust (like the kind that's prompting health alerts in Europe), smoke from burning biomass in the Amazon, and yet more Chinese air pollution:
H/t to Shanghaiist